Two Innovations That Are Promoting Blind Independence

As technology changes and grows, the physically handicapped will no longer have their minds ignored. Recently researchers and technology “geeks” have been discovering new ways to reach blind communities. While one of these is advancements is far from truly giving sight to the blind, the other looks to help the blind today by including them in the written culture.

While seeing through the tongue may sound like science fiction this may some day be a reality. On 60 Minutes, in a series entitled, “Understanding the Brain” Daniel Sieburg reported a new technology called brainport, which uses a camera strapped to the person’s forehead to send electrical singles to the tongue. The tongue then using sensory input translates the image to give the individual the opportunity to “see” what’s in front of him. While this technology still has a long way to go, right now it has some amazing potentials. According to one of its creators, it is like learning a new language. The individual wearing the device learns to interpret the input and vocabulary through tongue to the point where they do not even have to think about it. Roger Behm, one of the test subjects using brainport, no longer needs to walk with the aid of a cane. Brainport allows him to see objects, logos, and numbers. The creators hope to develop a clearer picture for the blind individual in the future where they will be able to see an entire setting in black and white. Regardless, the possibilities are endless. Researchers hope to enable blind independence where as the visually impaired such as Roger Behm just hope to see someone smile, “that would be cool.”

Jim Fruchtermin, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur is about helping the blind in the present by giving them the opportunity to connect to the rest of the World. His nonprofit company is dedicated to getting news and books to the blind. In order to do this he created which houses nearly 30,000 books and 150 periodicals (that are up-to-date). These books and periodicals have been scanned into the computer so that when a blind person enters the site he can download anything from the latest best sellers to that day’s news. These downloads go into a small handheld electronic reader that they then can take anywhere with them. This receiver will translate them to Braille or allow them to listen to the books. Fruchtermin states that he is giving them the tools to be successful, to be more mainstream. The nearly 6,000 users of the website seem to agree. Brian Miller and his wife, Priscilla, (both blind) feel more connected to family and the community. It’s that great feeling, “that I can do these things.”

Both advancements could be beneficial within the classroom, allowing students to gain more independence. Today, having the school subscribe to would allow blind students the opportunity to read popular books that their classmates enjoy. It would also allow them to keep up to the minute on news reports. While brainport may not be instrumental in the classroom now, in the next five years more students and adults may be tuned in to the outside World. This would allow for new strategies in the classroom and allow a better approach to mainstreaming those that are visually impaired.

Created By: Jessica Sweeney


“Blind Learn to See with Tongue.” 60 Minutes. Daniel Sieburg. CBS. 18 January 2007.

“Tech Entrepreneur Help Blind to Read.” 60 Minutes. Byron Pitts. CBS. 22 February 2007.

Clips from the 60 Minutes episodes can be seen through the online archive at in the “watch now” section